I previously wrote about the Korean model and how it succeeded in facing obstacles. Let us read that quote: “This country has no future. This country will not recover even after 100 years.”
This statement was said by US general Douglas MacArthur, who was Chief of Staff of the US Army in eastern Asia. MacArthur had beat Japan during World War II and forced the Japanese emperor to sign the outrageous surrender treaty which is still the basis of Japan’s relation with the US.
During the war, South Korea, supported by the US, was fighting with North Korea, which was supported by the socialist Soviet Union and China.
He said South Korea’s future was occupied for 36 years by Japan and its severe war with North Korea left the country in a state looks like African terra incognita.
This prophecy was also stressed by head of UN special commission, Vengalil Menon, who was chosen to monitor the truce. “The people of this country are living in Middle Ages, how a flower could grow within waste disposal?” he said.
The documentary films about that period in South Korea always feature photos of severely thin children, mothers crying out in grief and incomprehensiblely speaking, sounds of sirens everywhere, and heavy smoke coming out from the remains of collapsed buildings.
After thirty years, the books specialised in the South Korean model always refer to the the people who studied what we call today “the Korean miracle”. “Korea made the biggest technological breakthrough the modern world has ever known,” the famous futurist Alvin Toffler said.
The documentaries about modern South Korea always features photos of high buildings, wide streets, harmonic bridges, and huge factories in all fields. South Korea ranks first in the shipbuilding industry, fifth in the automotive industry, fourth in televisions industry, second in mobile phones industry, and sixth worldwide in computers industry.
Their journey was not easy. A journey full of political conflict started by very fierce conflicts and ended with a dictatorship that launched huge development under the leadership of Gen. Park Chung-hee, who came to power after a military coup sopped a series of political turmoil caused by civilian elites who pretended to be democratic but they know nothing about applying democracy.
The bloody military coup suspended all democratic forms of demonstrations, sit-ins, and freedom of opinion and media. The state even controlled the students’ hair cut and the length of girls’ clothes. According to the amended Constitution, a single word or sentence which opposes the regime would be enough to sentence the opponents to prison.
However there was great focus on technical education and investment in infrastructure. A special committee was formed to observe planning, investment, industry, and commerce files under the direct supervision of the president. Western experts considered the Korean model as some sort of plowing in the sea.
Chung-hee was assassinated and there is still a debate whether he was a great president, or a dictator. The Korean experience produced a society with no democracy but successful on the economic and social level. It was a society with no political rights but had economic recovery factors.
The 1960s and 1970s generations suffered as well since their sons who hated oppression and tyranny but took advantage of the strong economic structure. After a bitter struggle, they paid a high price to achieve the democratic transition in the 1990s finally.
Moataz Bellah Abdel-Fattah is an Egyptian professor of political science. He previously served as adviser to the prime minister of Egypt, and professor of political science at both Cairo University and Central Michigan University.